The Republican challenging Liz Cheney in the party leadership on Thursday repeated Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election remains in doubt, in a sign of how loyalty to the former president has become the litmus test for advancement within the caucus.
Elise Stefanik, a 36-year-old from New York, is jockeying to be elected the next Republican conference chair in the House of Representatives amid calls to remove Cheney from the post over her outspoken refusal to accept claims that the election was stolen.
Trump on Wednesday endorsed Stefanik for the role, which would make her the party’s most senior woman on Capitol Hill, calling her a “tough and smart communicator”. He attacked Cheney as “a warmongering fool who has no business in Republican party leadership”, in a statement issued by his Save America political action committee.
Stefanik on Thursday appeared on a podcast hosted by Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser, and said she was “fully” supportive of Republican efforts to audit election results in Arizona, a swing state that Biden won in November. Trump and his allies have sought to cast doubt on the poll despite multiple recounts.
Trump pardoned Bannon shortly before leaving the White House after federal prosecutors in New York charged the strategist with defrauding hundreds of thousands of Trump supporters.
“Transparency is a good thing,” Stefanik told Bannon. “We need to fix these election security issues.”
Cheney’s disappearing clout underscores Trump’s persistent influence in the Republican party six months after his election loss to Joe Biden.
A staunch neoconservative and a daughter of former Republican vice-president Dick Cheney, she has said she would not support Trump if he ran again for the White House in 2024.
The 54-year-old Wyoming Republican voted to impeach Trump for his role in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol that left five people dead and has since spoken out repeatedly against the former president, saying Republicans should accept the election results.
After months of haemorrhaging support from fellow Republicans, Cheney is expected to be kicked out of her leadership role as the third-ranking House Republican as soon as next week.
Stefanik, whose largely rural district includes much of New York state’s rural north country, has openly campaigned to fill the vacancy created by Cheney’s likely defenestration.
A Harvard University graduate who worked in the George W Bush White House and later advised former House speaker Paul Ryan, Stefanik became a vocal supporter of Trump during the first impeachment probe into him in 2019. The investigation focused on the then-president’s efforts to get Ukraine’s president to dig up dirt on Biden and his family.
In a veiled swipe at Cheney, Stefanik told Bannon that the Republican party was “one team and that means working with the president”, in a reference to Trump, not Biden.
Cheney, meanwhile, has showed no signs of backing down, despite losing the support of Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, the number one and two House Republicans, respectively.
In an op-ed published late on Wednesday in The Washington Post, Cheney warned that her party was “at a turning point”, adding: “Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”
“History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process,” Cheney wrote. “I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be.”